It’s Work Anywhere week but working anywhere isn’t working everywhere. By that I mean that not all organisations allow their staff to work away from the office even where this is possible and even sensible. So here’s my bluffers guide as I do this quite a lot. At first sight working away form the office might seem all good for the employee with no obvious benefit to the employer, however the reality is that there are downsides for employees and loads of benefits for employers.

Lets look at the employer first and the downsides of Anywhere working.  I guess the obvious concern is loss of control, not knowing if your staff are doing what they ought to, and vague concerns about productivity. 

However there is a big price to be paid for having all your staff on site, not least the cost of that site. If a business implements anywhere working then it might only need desks for 60% of the workforce and not 80-90%.  My counter to the productivity argument is threefold:

1. Your workforce are dependant on personal and public transport to get to work and failures in these also lead to a loss in productivity.  If I cast my mind back to the snow and ash clouds last year, our anywhere working and unified communications meant that very few customer meetings and events were cancelled.

2. Work Anywhere doesn’t just mean working at home.  If your workforce can get unified communications and some sort of VPN access to get at internal resources form a remote location. They can work on a client site, at public events like trade shows, and in coffee shops, hotels etc.  In my own case I worked at my mum’s house while she got over a cancer op at the start of the year, so I could care for here and get stuff done, and then when I was at a big show at Olympia the following week I could access internal SharePoint sites to get answers I needed to the many questions I was being asked .

3. The other major loss of productivity is sickness and if you can work at home in a reduced capacity they won’t bring their germs to work and affect the rest of their team.  This happens all the time at Microsoft and its not just colds it’s post trip jetlag, sports injuries and in my case working at home after an emergency appendectomy.  Of course this requires two trust between managers and staff but that should be there anyway. Migraines are  my problem here and I can just work round them with the trust in place between me and my manager.

The upsides for us employees are all pretty obvious, in my case looking after mum after her cancer surgery,  burning the midnight oil in the week to  make a swift exit on Friday lunchtime, and working in New Zealand for a day  while on holiday as you can’t really have 5 weeks off back to back without doing a check-in and some e-mail triage.  Another great benefit is having stuff delivered at home rather than endless trips to the post office track down your latest Amazon & EBay purchases.  However there are some downsides:

  • It’s all too easy to check e-mail whenever so you need to set aside time to unplug from the office
  • If you are unable to work you need to say so and take time out, no one is indispensable! 
  • You’ll save money and a lot of time by not commuting to work but season tickets on public transport aren’t economical for a once or twice a week trip to the office.
  • Another cost is that your energy bills at home will rise as you’ll need to heat & power home office.
  • Most employers will cover your broadband costs, but the cost of having your own home office will be down to you

So  I think Anywhere working is a good thing and while I am more than happy to work for Microsoft even if they didn’t support this, I am more effective and productive because they do in principle and in practice.  Check out Anywhere Working for more on this and encouraging your organisation to think about it, for example I punched in my daily commute and assumed I would work at home 3 days a week..

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